8 minute read

[caption id=”attachment_963” align=”alignnone” width=”1600”]A row of shops in a section of Harlem known as Le Petite Senegal A row of shops in a section of Harlem known as Le Petite Senegal[/caption]


I don’t know anything about fill-in-the-blank culture! Can I even do this without some level of cultural expertise?

This is perhaps the most frequent question concerning ELCP. Without stepping onto a soapbox, this attitude is the unfortunate byproduct of the professionalization of ministry. We have falsely decided that gospel proclamation requires someone with a degree in the work or training in some missions equipping program. In this unhelpful paradigm, the clergy (or in this case the missionaries) are the ones who know how to reach people, and the lay person does not have what it takes. Such training is beneficial, but it is not necessary for the work of the ministry. That attitude kills the spread of the gospel.

Limited cultural experience is a good thing. We are looking for people with limited to no cultural experience. We are looking for people who are willing to learn. This work is really for everyone in the local church. Our hope is not to train someone in any one culture, but that you will learn how to engage different cultures by, get this, engaging cultures. In fact, a good missionary training program does not teach the missionary a list of cultural facts about a people group. It crafts an understanding for cultures in the missionary. In other words, it teaches a missionary how to think about culture, not the details of any one specific culture.

When a missionary first goes to the field, they do not know the language, the culture, or the worldview of the people. It is a process of discovery that teaches them these things and how to communicate with the people they are trying to reach. If done well, this means the missionary goes into this culture with humility and the attitude of the learner. This is the same thing you need to do to reach the international peoples around you. If you’re a “cultural idiot,” then you are dependent upon them to teach you about their culture. In our context in the United States, many of these international peoples have never had an in-depth conversation with an American. Perhaps they have never met an American who is genuinely interested in them and their culture.

If you approach international peoples as a learner, then a beautiful thing happens, they will most likely teach you how to interact with them and you will have yourself a friend.

You have home court advantage - Most church folk have heard some story about a guy going to Africa on a mission trip and offending the entire village when they reached out to greet the chief with their left hand. While most of those stories are overblown, there is a need to be culturally sensitive. That is what concerns most churches when doing this work. It is a good concern, but remember that you have the home court advantage.You do not need to worry about cultural norms and cues to the extent you would if you were in that person’s country. Remember, they are living in your culture, which means they will be more used to them, and even expect them. However, it is your job to learn their cultural cues over time, as it is how you will share the gospel in a way that is meaningful.

What is a point of interest?

A point of interest is any business or establishment that can be positively connected to a particular people group. For instance, if you come across an Afghan restaurant or a West African fabric store, then you may have found a point of interest. After speaking with the owner, attendants, customers, etc., you can find out which people groups own and shop here.

By finding and collecting points of interest, you will eventually discover points of engagement.

What is a point of engagement?

Points of engagement are different from a point of interest. Unlike a point of interest, an engagement point is not a business or restaurant. Instead, it is an apartment complex or neighborhood with a large concentration of a particular people group. Often times, finding the points of interest will lead the mapper to the places where a people group lives and plays. These are the ideal places to create a strategy of engagement. It is here that a local church wants to start a Bible study with the hopes of planting a church.

Do we just choose where to go, or is there a list of places?

Ultimately, yes you choose. However there is also a list of places. Your local church is free to determine its strategy, including where and with whom you want to work. However, wisdom says to find out other churches that are trying to reach that same area and people group. If churches are aware of each other in the mapping process, they will not duplicate efforts and will be able to partner instead of compete in areas of need.

What if we want to map around our church and it’s already mapped?

Then you should do so. Again, it is advisable to find out what other churches are working in your area, so that you can partner with them. In the Raleigh area, we already have stories of people in international communities coming to church representatives asking for fewer church vans to come to their apartment complex on Sundays. Ironically, it is not because they do not want their children going to church, but they are confused and cannot put their children on all of them. They simply want less options, as they do not want to offend. This type of paradigm is not best for the sake of the gospel.

In addition, there are many other areas in the Triangle that need attention. Perhaps your church would be willing to work in an area that is not as close buy has more need.

How do we avoid mapping on top of each other?

First, check in with churches around you. Secondly, study the resources and mapping material that have been made available so you can see what has been mapped. Third, record your information quickly. For the map of the Triangle to stay up to date, we need churches to fill out the point of interest form as soon as they find them.

What do I wear?

Again, the people groups you will work with are currently in America, so they are not going to expect you to follow their cultural norms concerning dress. However, let me caution you toward modesty. While they may not expect you to follow their standard of dress, that will not stop them from judging your morality and Christianity based on their standard of modesty. This does not necessarily mean women must wear a head wrap when working with Muslim peoples. It does mean that conservative dress is certainly advisable. It is usually best to err on the side of caution concerning dress.

How many people should go in a group?

There is no set number. It would be best to keep the number low (no more than 3 or 4). If you have a large group from your church that wants to start mapping, that is a great problem to have! Simply break them up into smaller teams to visit points of interest.

When people ask “why are you here?”  If you start mapping, this will inevitably happen. There is no one answer, either. Honesty is always the best policy, but remember that the way you speak the truth is often important. In many instances, walking into an establishment and telling the people you are taking down their information to record them in a database would be rather suspicious of even offensive. These people are not simply a project, but explaining the mapping unwisely can make it sound like they are. However, there are times when explaining that you are doing research is helpful. Please use discernment.

Most of the time, it is best to be simple with your answer and tell the most important reason that you are there. Say something like, “I go to fill-in-the-blank church here in the area. There are a lot of international people here and our church has realized this, and we want to get to know you. We want to know more about our community and how to serve it, so we want to find out about you.” After all, that is the long term goal, and it is the most important part of the mapping. It humanizes them and keeps them from sounding like a project.

When is the best time to go?

I hesitate to provide a “best time,” as I do not want people to think there is only one time to go. In fact, often times you will find a completely different set of peoples and activities if you visit the same place at different times. So, be encouraged to go throughout the day and week. Each place will be different.

Nevertheless, there are average times when people are more likely to be available for conversation. If you are going into a restaurant or other point of interest, many of those have slower hours between 2-4 pm. They will most likely be open, but will not have patrons visiting their establishment. This means it is often easier to strike up conversation with them after the lunch rush and before people get off from work.

Also, did we miss something? Let us know in the comments below.

Here’s some more posts regarding the People’s Next Door Project: